Consumers and food manufacturers surveyed in global study: food origin claims, and comments on Australian implications

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 17th February 2012

A study, undertaken by US-based product safety company Underwriters Laboratories, has found that consumers are more interested in knowing about the origin of a food product’s ingredients than they are with where the food in made.

Underwriters Laboratories has released the findings of its ‘Navigating the Product Mindset’ study, which examined attitudes about where products are made, sold, bought and consumed.

Based on global research among consumers and manufacturers, the study also examined perceptions about products related to safety, performance, innovation and sustainability.

Underwriters Laboratories conducted 2, 430 interviews with manufacturers and consumers conducted across a range of significant export and import markets including China, Germany, India and the United States.

Importance of origin identification

Key findings from the study include:

-The origin of a food product’s ingredients is more important to consumers than where a product is assembled.

-69 per cent of manufacturers agree consumers are becoming more aware and better educated about products in general.

-56 per cent of consumers believe the country of origin of fresh dairy products and meat, fish and fruits and vegetables impacts the quality of their products.

-Geography and culture play the largest role in shaping perceptions about food products. Consumers are aware of an increasingly complex, global supply chain and have a growing interest in the traceability of products and product parts.

-Few food manufacturers appear to make the environment a top-tier issue when compared with safety and performance.

Significance for ‘Country of Origin’ arguments in Australia

Australian food lawyer, Joe Lederman, from FoodLegal, believes that the survey findings are “highly pertinent” from an Australian perspective.

Mr. Lederman pointed out that the debate about food origin labelling claims has been raging in Australia for more than 5 years – ever since changes to the laws in the Trade Practices Act (now known as the Australian Consumer Law) and the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code in 2005 to allow Country of Origin claims to be defined by the place of assembling or packaging.

According to Mr. Lederman, the Blewett Labelling enquiry made a recommendation in 2011 for a re-defining of ‘origin’ by reference to the ingoing ingredients instead. However, the Australian Government did not accept this recommendation, so the status quo remained: Origin is still largely defined by place of assembling or packaging of the food.

“Personally, I take the view that an ‘origin’ claim ought to be a premium voluntary claim for a product that is 100% local product”, said Mr. Lederman.

“I take the view that imposing a very loose form of mandatory origin labelling, but allowing a generic escape clause, undermines the whole purpose for making the scheme mandatory”, he said.

Mr. Lederman said that the issue of origin labelling had become politically mixed up with the issues concerning supermarket power and home-brands. He said there were different ways that these problems could be resolved and that suppliers would be better off if they took control of a voluntary system for identifying the local origins of their products.